The art of execution revolves around knowing who you are. Your authentic journey of self-discovery is essential in developing your style. In turn, your style becomes your own personal brand. You can protect your story and elevate your brand if you pay attention to the three critical components below.
Know yourself first and let it lead you
Don’t bother shaping your brand around things that don’t bring you joy. Personally, I find zen in the personal interactions that extract expressions from my clients. If this sounds like you, then there is a space in portrait photography that you can occupy. If you could care less about makeup and the beauty of branding, then why are you expecting to succeed at commercial photography? Clients can innately sense your insecurity and uncertainty. If you force yourself into opportunities where you hold no joy, your work will come across as inauthentic. The majority of your audience won’t know why they don’t connect with your work but it will lack the passionate undercurrent that sets the great apart from the good.
Relatedly, think about the circles you navigate outside of your photography that can fuse your passion for your work. When I was in college, I was in a rock band. I had long hair and wore jeans tighter than would likely be advised by any medical professional. Being in a band put me in a lot of venues and, having owned cameras since before I could legally drive, it was natural that I inevitably managed to capture countless images of bands who took the stage before or after me. Because I had credibility in that space and could capture the spirit behind the music, I wasn’t afraid to show people some stuff they ended up liking. I got paid (not much), got a bit of exposure and most importantly gained some confidence in my worth in the field.
There is nothing more important for a photographer than to know how to tell a good story with zero words. Be it a single image or an editorial set--from creative direction to post-production--you must show the same care to every small part of your images as you do for the big, bold parts. As the viewer’s eyes cross from one side to the other, from the top to bottom of your work, they will treat each component as a different chapter in a book. You can’t decide what story they extract, but you can be intentional about every element in order to help them get closer to the point you are trying to make. You will have a hard time in the beginning of your career capturing a story you don’t understand. Start with what you know.
Protect your personal brand at all costs
Your brand will be shaped by your experience and requires constant vigilance and cultivation. My work, and my style in the studio is rooted in strength. I love making my subjects feel and look strong. I did not just randomly choose this point of view. Though it takes a bit of a back seat these days, a large portion of my earlier life was spent in the gym. I coached lifters and passed about as much time weight training as I did studying when I was at university. I think it is safe to say I preferred the gym to the classroom for much of my youth. Now, fitness is a huge part of my business as a commercial photographer. I know this world because it was my world.
I am fiercely protective of my persona and what my work evokes. I am obsessed with making sure that every image of myself or my subjects is aligned with strength as a brand. Even for images that don’t fit the conscious mold of “strong”, there is an undercurrent of strength running through all of my work. If you want to work for a huge athletic brand, look at what they are pushing out and make something in your style that is on-brand for them. If you want to work for a sleek and sexy liquor brand, maybe don’t fill your portfolio with highly stylized photos of golden retriever puppies and holiday shoots of families. This might require, if there are super disparate types of work you enjoy making, some creative compartmentalizing of your brand and your work.
You are the company you keep
Much like your mother used to say, you will be judged by the people you hang out with. Why bother being attached to potential collaborators whose work you don’t respect?
Nobody can succeed alone. Your team will become an extension of your personal brand. The best teams are built on the shared hustle and values. Put together a team with compatible mindsets and aspirations and let that attitude flow through your production. Working with a team allows for each member to focus on their specific task, and with that singular (but cohesive) focus comes excellent execution and portfolio content that will impress your prospects and help turn casual followers into partners and clients.
Next time you’re browsing social media, don’t waste time comparing your work to others. Stay poised for your next collaboration. Think about who can help you achieve your goals and how you can help them achieve theirs. Be a giver and a mentor, not just a taker.
In the Instagram age, a lot of us are spending time creating images and sitting in front of our MacBooks pumping out “bangers”--that’s all well and good, but in order create the legitimacy in our industry that we claim we want so desperately, we need to show other industries why they need us.
They do need us. We see it multiple times a day in the subpar marketing content flooding our environment. If you don’t know how to build computers, you get yourself to the Apple store. If you can’t cook (or… let’s be real… just don’t feel like cooking), you go to a restaurant. Businesses can’t always have high-end image makers on their roster, so they hire us. If they’re going to hire someone, why shouldn’t it be you? You can’t help others do their best work if you can’t prove that you can do these things yourself. No one will trust you to market them if you clearly can’t market you.
I truly believe there is a piece of this pie out there for everyone who is willing to pay attention to their self-image and style with the same meticulous detail they apply to their work. Discover what you love, let it permeate your style, and only let people into your professional life who won’t let you forget who you are.
Written by: Cameron Story @cameronstory.photo
Photographer: Cameron Story @cameronstory.photo
Stylist: Charity Littrell @sweetbettycheeks
HMUA: Celeste Antoine @celeste.antoine
📍Los Angeles, California